The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) today forecast two million new units of industrial robots will be installed in factories around the world between 2020 and 2022. The forecast is part of its “Top Trends Robotics 2020” announcement.
The three largest trends highlighted by the IFR include industrial robots getting smarter, collaborating more with workers, and becoming more digital than in previous years. “Smart robotics and automation are vital to deal with new consumer trends, demand for product variety or challenges from trade barriers,” said Susanne Bieller, general secretary of the IFR. “New technological solutions pave the way for more flexibility in production.”
Simpler, but smarter
The IFR said programming and installation of robots will become much easier. For example, digital sensors combined with smart software will allow for direct teaching methods, the so-called “Programming by Demonstration,” the association said. Tasks for a robot arm will first be executed by a human, taking the robot arm literally and hand-guiding it through movements. Data is then transferred by software into a digital program for the robot arm. In the future, “machine learning tools will further enable robots to learn by trial-and-error or by video demonstration, and self-optimize their movements.”
Robots working in tandem with humans will allow them to adapt to rapidly changing environments. The IFR said the range of collaborative applications offered by robot manufacturers will continue to expand. Currently, shared workspace applications are most common, where a robot and human worker operate alongside each other, completing tasks sequentially. Applications in which the human and the robot work at the same time on the same part are more challenging, the IFR said.
Research is focusing on methods that will enable robots to respond in real time. “Just like two human workers would collaborate, the R&D teams want them to adjust its motion to its environment, allowing for a true responsive collaboration,” the IFR said. Solutions in this space include voice, gesture, and recognition of intent from human motion. “With the technology of today, human-robot collaboration has already a huge potential for companies of all sizes and sectors,” the association said. In addition, collaborative operations will complement investments in traditional industrial robots.
The third big trend for the year for industrial robots will be for them to become central components of digital and networked production as used in Industry 4.0 concepts. “This makes it all the more important for them to be able to communicate with each other – regardless of the manufacturer,” the IFR said.
The “OPC Robotics Companion Specification,” developed by a joint working group of the VDMA and the Open Platform Communications Foundation defines a standardized generic interface for industrial robots, enabling them to connect to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The IFR said digital connections of robots via cloud technology will also be an enabler for new business models, including robot leasing, aka robots-as-a-service. The group said these models are especially attractive for small and midsize enterprises, as there is no committed capital, fixed costs, automatic upgrades and “no need for high-qualified robot operators.”
The IFR’s trends mirror several predictions made by other industry watchers and experts – here are some other trend reports and predictions we’ve been compiling since the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020:
- The Robotics Sector in 2020 and Beyond: Predictions from Industry Gurus
- Industry Experts Provide More Robotics Predictions for 2020
- Robotics Trends to Watch in 2020: Our 8 Big Predictions
- Robotics Prediction Scorecard 2019: How Did We Do?
- Guest Post: Why 2020 Will be Better Than 2019 in Automation
- AI and robotics execs look back at tech trends of 2019
- In 2020, AI to enable acceleration from automation to autonomy, say experts